French airport security causes furor

Hijab and sheitel wearers join forces against "humiliating" checks.

June 7, 2007 20:06
2 minute read.
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A diverse coalition of Knesset members - haredim, feminists and Muslims - protested on Thursday against French airport security personnel's treatment of women who cover their hair for religious reasons. In a letter to French Ambassador Jean-Michel Casa, MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) joined forces with MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Science and Technology, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle (Labor) to complain that religious women are victims of humiliating and embarrassing treatment at the hands of security personnel in France's airports during routine security checks. MK Ibrahim Sarsour (UAL-Tal), the head of the Islamic Movement's southern branch, said that he also opposed religious discrimination against Muslims and Jews and was willing to sign Porush's letter to Casa. "I would be happy to add my name to a petition that protects and encourages respect for religious faith - whether Muslim or Jewish," Sarsour said. An Orthodox Jewish couple who passed through Paris's Charles De Gaulle Airport on their way to Israel in April later complained to Porush that they were humiliated when, during a routine check, the woman was asked to remove her head covering. The French authorities ignored her protests that "this is not accepted practice in any airport. We have never been faced with such a strange demand." The security personnel insisted on removing her head covering in public, which, according to some, is forbidden by Jewish law. Requests that the check be performed in private were rejected in a demeaning way, the woman told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. An attempt by an El Al crew to come to the defense of the couple was brutally rebuffed, she said. "But in the end, I did not give in," the woman said. "I insisted on covering my head with something else while they checked me." In the letter to Casa, signed by lawmakers from nearly every parties, Porush wrote, "The public debate in France over the right of Muslim women to cover their heads and faces in public schools and government offices has nothing to do with the strange method adopted by the French airport security." A Casa representative said the ambassador had no comment. Sarsour said that like Judaism, Islam obligates women to cover their heads at all times in public places. This is called hijab. In contrast, niqab, which includes the covering of the entire face, is optional, he said. "If there is a security need, a Muslim woman is permitted to remove the niqab. But the hijab must not be removed except in private, and only in front of female security personnel." Sarsour said he had not received complaints about mistreatment similar to the kind faced by the Jewish woman who complained to Porush. "But if there is an attack on Muslim sensibilities, we will fight it with all our might," he said.

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